Phoebe Cates was in perhaps the most iconic scene in movie history. Okay, that may be stretching it a bit, but she was definitely in one of the most watched-again and paused scenes in movie history. It led her into a surprisingly lengthy career; not surprising because she couldn’t act, but surprising because we haven’t seen or heard from Cates but once since she retired… back in 1994!
PHOEBE CATES WAS TOO YOUNG
Phoebe Cates literally burst onto the movie screen at a young age. Maybe too young and age. More to the point, UNDERAGE. Her first role was in the movie Paradise, which can only be described as a Blue Lagoon rip-off. Blue Lagoon was the 1980 Brooke Shields-Christopher Atkins movie of two teenagers stranded on an island. In Cates’ case, she was 17 when she filmed the movie, a movie that required her to go fully nude, which she did. The movie also starred Willie Aames (Tommy Bradford in the 1980s TV series Eight is Enough) who also had his fair share of nudity.
The story is about two teens who in 1823 are traveling with a caravan from Baghdad to Damascus. When the caravan is slaughtered by a white slaver, Cates and Aames escape into the desert, where they discover love and sex, not necessarily at the same time. The film received horrible reviews but those did not stop Cates from moving on to another role, one that would define her career.
PHOEBE CATES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Phoebe Cates turned boys into men. It’s true. Just ask any young male who sat (or squirmed) in the movie theater as Cates climbed out of the swimming pool in that red bikini, unfastening that red bikini top, and then… bam! Puberty complete!
Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a classic for many reasons. Sean Penn’s turn as Spicoli, Ray Walston as Mr. Hand, Judge Reinhold, who receives the ultimate walk-in by Cates, as Brad Hamilton. Many classic characters and many classic scenes and lines. But Cates’ role as Linda Barrett is perhaps the most memorable. Her beauty was undeniable, and she could deliver a line. It also helped most of the male population that she was not shy. In fact, Rolling Stone called Cates red bikini scene “the most memorable bikini-drop in cinema history.”
Fun fact. The first cut of Fast Times at Ridgemont High received an X rating for its full-frontal nudity. Not for the women in the movie, but a full-frontal of one of the male characters too. If you recall the boathouse sex scene, there was much more to it. But we digress.
GREMLINS, FRED, AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN
Phoebe Cates followed up Fast Times with a lead role in the movie Private School, where once again she dropped her top. Early nudity for Cates never was an issue for her or anyone watching her on the big screen.
That tendency toward nude scenes changed in 1984 when Phoebe Cates played another iconic role: that of Kate Beringer in the Steven Spielberg hit Gremlins. It was a wonderful 180 from the roles she had early on. This one had Cates play an innocent high schooler who, along with Zach Galligan’s Billy Peltzer, had to fight off Gremlins before they could take over their town during the Christmas holiday.
Things began to slow down for Phoebe Cates after Gremlins. She was seen in Date With An Angel, Bright Lights, Big City with Michael J. Fox and Kiefer Sutherland, Shag, and Heart of Dixie before she was back in the sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch. The sequel wasn’t as successful as the first but still, Cates continued to work.
Slowly. Between the release of Gremlins 2 in 1990 and her retirement in 1994, Phoebe Cates was seen in fewer and fewer films, one being Drop Dead Fred. The comedy didn’t go over well at the theaters, which could be why the 1994 movie Princess Caraboo was her final feature film.
KEVIN KLINE AND RETIREMENT
Phoebe Cates met actor Kevin Kline during auditions for the film The Big Chill. While she did not get a part in the movie, she later began to date Kline. The couple married in 1989 and since have had two children.
According to Cates, having children was the reason for her retirement. Phoebe Cates has lived up to her word, raising her children while leaving Hollywood behind. She did, though, pop up briefly in 2001 as a favor to her Fast Times pal Jennifer Jason Leigh. The movie, The Anniversary Party, was written and directed by Leigh, who was able to convince Cates to appear in the movie, along with Kevin Kline and both their children Owen and Greta Kline.
Since that 2001 appearance, Phoebe Cates has remained happily retired.
PHOEBE CATES NOW
In 2005, Phoebe Cates has been running the Blue Tree. The Blue Tree is a boutique located in the Upper East Side of New York City in the neighborhood of Carnegie Hill. Her dream was “to have it be like a general store but according to me.” Cates sells a mixture of goods, from women’s clothing and jewelry to home, fragrance, music, and other gift items.
While Phoebe Cates will always be known for Fast Times, it’s nice to see that retirement has treated her kindly and her success doesn’t have to be measured on the movie screen. Well done.